Rain Taxi Review

The Televisionary Oracle

Reviewed by Rob O'Brien
Rain Taxi

New Age literature usually garners the same level of respect as a McDonald's fat-content pamphlet. Most New Age texts read as hokey visions of reconnecting with God or the energy source; in seeking to affect a large slice of the population, they often form themselves as dull Reader's Digest-esque prose. Still, many of these books find their way onto bestseller lists. Perhaps this is in part due to the niche they fill -- a quick stopgap for those who've abandoned Protestant and Catholic America for a less shaming spiritual existence. While many turn to atheism, others bounce from one spirituality to the next, puzzling together their new belief system.

Enter Rob Brezsny. For years, Brezsny has written the [Free Will] Astrology column that graces local alternative weekly newspapers around the country. His rambling, playful, occasionally enigmatic horoscopes breathed new life into an ancient spiritual practice that had been languishing in a journalistic coma.

In The Televisionary Oracle, Brezsny abandons his weekly blurbs of wisdom and produces a 500-page novel. As in his column, Brezsny uses the book to attack the stodgier elements of Christianity in order to gather its followers under the new banner of all beliefs, new and old. Through the story of the reincarnation of Mary Magdalen as a ravenesque trickster and her involvement with an anti-corporate New Age rock star, the author reinterprets the tenets of Christianity. Women regain their spot as equals in this world -- The Televisionary Oracle explains that Magdalen was Jesus' partner, rather than devoted follower, in the creation of Christianity. In the book it's Magdalen, not Jesus, who'll save us from the coming patriarchy-cased apocalypse. And this is only a brief hint of what Brezsny does with a twisting narrative of religious icons, rock and roll, sex, and cultural critique.

What's amazing is how Brezsny's prose remains invigorating in the transition from weekly astrology to larger scope writing. The prose is still poetic, circular, almost dancing, combining the narrative voices of Anais Nin, Tom Robbins, David Ignatow, and a host of ancient mystics. This is what people have always loved in his writing -- whether the horoscope was right on or completely opaque, Brezsny is always fun to read.

In the end, though, it's Brezsny's cynicism that makes this book a winner. Other New Age, spiritualist novels lead the reader to take a fresh look at the world by ignoring the economic and corrupt nightmares of capitalism and its pollution of culture. But instead of looking away and pointing to a daisy field or deities seated upon fluffy clouds, Brezsny alternates his world-as-an-illusion, "utopia ahead" narrative with insightful cultural critique. Speaking of punk rock he writes: "the 'revolution' had been bought with Regandollars and turned into an ingenious form of social control. The music of chaos, heresy, and disruption was now a lucrative product."

Brezsny's inner cynic transforms what might have otherwise been a playful but flighty coming of age story into a powerful example of how ancient mysticism may just be the best tool for revolutionary action, both for the individual and the society.